equitable distribution

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Equitable distribution is a principle in divorce law governing the allocation of marital property between spouses. In states that use equitable distribution, courts try to achieve a fair allocation of property based on a list of factors or guidelines set forth by state law. Equitable distribution of marital property is distinct from an equal (i.e., 50-50) division of marital property, which is generally used in community property states. 

Some factors that a court may consider include the duration of the marriage, the value of the marital property, each spouse’s contribution to the marital property, the spouses’ respective sources of income or earning capacities, and the economic circumstances of each spouse upon the division of property. See the New Jersey and Pennsylvania statutes for typical examples of equitable distribution factors. Some states, such as South Carolina, consider marital misconduct such as adultery to be a relevant factor, if the misconduct contributed to the dissolution of the marriage or affected the economic circumstances of the parties. 

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]